Loss and grief go on. One of my very best friends died in Viet Nam. Doug Cain, July 14, 1968. He was in Nam about two weeks. He let his college deferment go. I never knew why. He was a poet and on the way to becoming perhaps a German scholar.
That is the context of what I have to say. This past weekend I heard many times about how we must thank veterans for winning the freedom I enjoy. No. Even many in the military now acknowledge that the wars they fight are mostly ill conceived and have nothing to do with our freedom. This means that a lot of soldiers have died or have been physically and emotionally wounded for bad politics.
The most patriotic thing we can do is criticize our government when we think it is wrong. That is a fundamental of democracies. We are responsible for what our country does or doesn’t do for its citizens and to other people around the world. Love of flag won’t substitute for that responsibility.
In 2006 I read in a newspaper “Young Marines in Iraq voice their frustrations over war.” One marine who joined after 9/11 said: “To be honest, I just wanted to take revenge.” He was honest. This is the reason we invaded Iraq. Revenge for 9/11 even though Saddam had nothing to do with it.
It is interesting that the first war in Afghanistan would have been tit for tat, for more than 3,000 Taliban and Al Quada were killed in that war from 2001 through 2003. That matches the nearly 3,000 who died on 9/11. [This says nothing about the possible 100,000-132,000 citizens of Iraq who died in our bombing and invasion. Here is what Wikileaks revealed about that. Here is more background.]
Walter Wink, the New Testament scholar who died recently, suggested in The Powers That Be that most Christians don’t believe the gospel taught by Jesus, but rather in “the myth of redemptive violence.” This is the idea that we can be redeemed, that everything can be set right, not by dying for others, but by killing others. In this dark and inverted gospel one achieves greatest glory by dying while killing others.
Any who were in Viet Nam will recognize these words, that were commonly engraved by soldiers, mostly draftees, on zippo lighters and scrawled on helmets:
We are the unwilling
Led by the unqualified
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful.
I suspect that these words have their origin in earlier wars.
‘Two forces drive war: National pride and human loss.
The first starts wars. The second sustains them.
The first casualty creates an investment in blood
that retreat would seem to dishonor.”
So as soon as there are casualties in a war, the soldiers and their families conclude that the war must be right because loved ones have died in it. After Doug’s death, his family would not speak to me or to his other friends who did not go. I think that we were to blame in their minds. The war had to have been right because Doug died there. We all should have gone and put ourselves in the danger that took him. When someone dies in war, it is difficult to accept that the fallen has died for stupid policies and decisions by politicians who spoke of domino theories, and by generals who were afraid that they would retire without having seen combat.
I have observed that the Viet Nam war still divides our nation after the 44 years since ‘68. It is like a scab that bleeds if we scratch it. Some still believe that it was a necessary war; we just didn’t have the will to win it. This must be so because we are incapable of losing a war. So we don’t talk about it, we just create new wars and defy others to deny their necessity and rightness. Worse, certain Republican candidates for President and past Presidents and Vice Presidents who dodged the draft (but didn’t oppose it) are excused because they support current and future use of military power to maintain American Empire. They are the official and phony patriots.
To all of this we must speak the truth and find ways to witness to it. Not to worry about future losses. From now on we will be using drones.